GOP wants airplane navigation system to take off more quickly

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“The FAA is currently spending roughly $1 billion each year to develop and implement NextGen," Aviation subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri (R-Wis.) said in a statement after a hearing on Wednesday. 

"The aviation industry will have to invest billions of dollars to equip their aircraft with the avionics from which the benefits of NextGen will be derived," he continued. "Unfortunately, the FAA’s progress is slower than expected and, as a result, the industry has been reluctant to invest."  

The switch to the NextGen system is expected to cost the FAA about $22 billion through 2025. Plans have called for the system to be in place at the busiest airports by 2014, and nationwide by 2020.

Airlines have said they have would spend about an additional $20 billion to upgrade their airplanes' computer systems.

House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said there was a "lack of leadership and progress at the FAA in implementing NextGen and meeting the requirements" of the $63 billion funding bill for the aviation agency that was approved by lawmakers this year. 

"We cannot afford to let the agency get in the way of success, and this Committee will hold FAA’s feet to the fire to make sure they implement the provisions in the law and move forward," Mica said. "The development of NextGen is an international contest that will determine the world’s leader in aviation technology. This is important for jobs, economic opportunity, and the future of the industry in the United States.”

Acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta defended the agency's implementation of the NextGen system. 

"NextGen is one of the nation’s largest infrastructure projects underway today, but it is more than just a single project, plan or new system," Huerta, whose appointment to a full term atop the FAA has been held up in the Senate, told the House committee in testimony submitted before the meeting Wednesday.  

"It is the integration of many systems, projects, concepts, technologies, plans, and organizations working with our National Airspace System (NAS) stakeholders to deliver new service capabilities that meet increasing air transport demands," Huerta continued. 

Huerta told lawmakers that the NextGen system would help meet an expected doublingin air traffic demand over the next 20 years, and said the new system would reduce airplane delays, both in the air and on the ground, by 38 percent. 

Huerta add that "[W]hile we are on track to meet these long-term goals, it is important to stress that NextGen is happening now. 

"Across the country, we are creating satellite-based procedures that will transform the NAS," he said. "Satellite navigation is essential to deliver benefits to users right away. The new flight tracks will relieve bottlenecks, improve safety and efficiency, and foster the flow of commerce." 

Lawmakers on the Transportation Committee agreed it was essential to develop the long-sought satellite navigation correctly. 

"It is very clear that everyone, including industry, FAA, and Congress, wants NextGen to succeed," Petri said. "Like other major infrastructure programs, NextGen is expensive and hard. This is further complicated by the tight federal budget." 

But Petri said that was not an excuse for delays in the implementation of the NextGen system.  

"According to the DOT Inspector General, funding has not been a problem," he said. "And certainly congressional support for NextGen remains strong.  At the end of the day, the FAA must overcome the challenges and get the job done.”